There once was a time in college basketball when freshmen weren’t even allowed to play, let alone compete for All-American honors and national championships.
Ever since the formation of the one-and-done rule, which requires players to play a year of basketball between high school and the NBA, we see almost the exact opposite.
Kentucky could start the year as No. 1 in the polls, thanks to the hype surrounding its first year players. Kansas will be a Top Five squad because of its new faces, and even Coach K at Duke will be relying on a freshman.
Read on to see which 10 freshmen will have the best 2013-14 seasons.
Unless you have spent the last six months on a cruise boat without cell phone, wireless or television access (hello Carnival!), you have heard of Andrew Wiggins if you are a basketball fan.
Even NBA fans who don’t follow college know Wiggins as the future No. 1 pick who losing teams will undoubtedly tank for at the end of the season. He is arguably the top high school prospect since LeBron James and instantly made Kansas the favorites once again in the Big 12 when he committed.
He is incredibly athletic, can handle the ball effectively, is a premier scorer and is developing his jump shot. Wiggins is also very lengthy for the wing position and will have a height or athleticism advantage on basically anyone who guards him.
Look for Wiggins to compete for National Player of the Year honors if he puts it all together quickly enough at the collegiate level.
Wiggins is all the rage now, but there was a time not that long ago that Jabari Parker was seen as the best high schooler since LeBron.
Just like Wiggins, Parker is noticeably athletic for his size, which will cause matchup problems no matter who opposing coaches throw at him. He will post up or shoot over smaller defenders and drive right past slower ones.
He has enough strength to finish through contact and will be at the rim plenty, be it through offensive rebounding or attacking the lane. It will be interesting to see how Coach K utilizes Parker in Duke’s offense, especially considering how much talent there will be in the backcourt.
If Duke is going to win the new-look ACC, Parker will be a primary reason why.
Indiana lost as much talent as anyone in the country this offseason with the departures of Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, among others, but Tom Crean’s squad should still compete with the elite teams of the Big Ten behind the play of freshman Noah Vonleh.
You would be hard-pressed to find a better rebounder in the class of 2013, and Vonleh’s unique combination of athleticism, length and jumping ability serves him well on the glass and when blocking shots. He is also quick enough to run the floor and versatile enough to play a handful of positions.
He can score at the rim effectively and has developed a jumper that extends to at least mid-range. His play, along with that of Yogi Ferrell, will go a long way toward determining whether the Hoosiers will remain among the nation’s elite.
Expect him to deliver on his potential.
No more Mark Lyons. No more Solomon Hill. No problem in Arizona.
The Wildcats are the preseason favorite in an underrated Pac-12 largely because of Sean Miller’s impressive recruiting efforts. The headliner of that group is power forward Aaron Gordon.
Like so many stretch forwards in today’s college basketball game, Gordon is versatile enough to play anything from small forward to center in a smaller lineup. He is athletic and quick, so he can stay in front of ball-handlers, but he is strong enough to muscle up in the paint.
Gordon is a formidable rebounder and will start a number of fast breaks with his ability to outlet and then get out in transition. His only weakness, if there is one, is a lack of an outside shot, but the Wildcats probably won’t be relying on their power forward to hit too many threes.
There has been a lot of discussion about the Harrison brothers, Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson in John Calipari’s incredible 2013 recruiting class, but James Young may end up leading the entire bunch in scoring.
His athleticism is the first thing that stands out when watching him on the floor, and that will translate well at the collegiate level. He attacks the rim with force and speed, which allow him to finish through contact in the lane, and he can jump out of the gym.
The lefty also has a smooth jumper and will be the one spotting up on the outside when defenses collapse around Randle and Johnson in the post or on the drives of the Harrisons. If Young can become a slightly better ball-handler, All-American status as a freshman is not out of the question.
While the prediction here is that the aforementioned Young leads Kentucky in scoring this year, many of Young’s open looks will come as the result of double teams surrounding the powerful Randle.
There may not be a better low-post scorer in the entire class of 2013 than Randle, and he plays even bigger than his frame would indicate. He is incredibly strong, has a number of moves on the block and will both initiate and fight through contact against taller players. Randle can even face up and dribble around defenders if given the chance.
On the other end of the floor, Randle will be a force on the glass and on defense. Expect him to rack up blocked shots all year alongside the Wildcats' other big men as Kentucky looks to bounce back from a disappointing 2012-13 campaign.
There is a reason Wiggins has received all the attention that he has—he is arguably the top player in college basketball already and hasn’t even played a minute yet, will likely be the top pick in the next NBA draft and could contend for National Player of the Year.
But while the media and opposing defenses focus on Wiggins, Wayne Selden will be busy racking up impressive numbers of his own for the Kansas Jayhawks.
Selden is an impressive ball-handler, has great court vision—which will undoubtedly help Wiggins, is an efficient passer and is versatile enough to play point guard, shooting guard or even small forward. He has a solid three-point shot as well, which should only improve under Bill Self’s tutelage.
Look for Selden to take advantage of a number of open looks this year as opponents focus their game plans around stopping Wiggins.
Marc Loving hasn’t received as much preseason attention as many of the other names on this list, but Ohio State has a hole in Thad Matta’s small-ball lineup he often likes to utilize, and Loving will fill it effectively.
Deshaun Thomas took his Big Ten-leading scoring production to the next level, which means there are points to be had in Columbus. Loving may not start right away, but given Amir Williams’ struggles throughout the first two years of his career, Loving will see plenty of playing time.
The Buckeyes often play a small-ball lineup, and Loving’s versatility will mean he is the de facto center when he is part of that rotation. Fortunately for Matta, Loving is an impressive rebounder and defender. He could use some more strength on his frame, but that will come with experience at the college level.
Look for Loving to use his soft touch around the basket and impressive mid-range jumper to take advantage of extended opportunities in 2013-14.
Syracuse is going to have its work cut out in the new-look and incredibly loaded ACC (just wait until Louisville shows up next year).
If the Orange are going to knock off the establishment in Duke and North Carolina, they are going to need impressive and heady play from freshman point guard Tyler Ennis. They should receive just that all year.
He is an incredible ball-handler who will set up his teammates effectively just by beating guys off the dribble. His court vision and overall basketball IQ will help him make the right decision when the defense collapses in the lane, which should open up guys like C.J. Fair at the rim.
Ennis isn’t quite a premier scorer yet, but Jim Boeheim doesn’t need him to be. As long as he is making the correct play given the situation, Syracuse will be in good hands when Ennis has the ball.
The beginning of Florida’s 2013-14 season took a hit when incoming freshman Chris Walker could not qualify academically (he is expected back before the year’s end, though), meaning a lot will fall on the plate of fellow freshman Kasey Hill early on.
Fortunately for the Gators, Hill will be up for the challenge.
Hill and big man Patric Young will formulate one of the best pick-and-roll duos in the entire country, thanks to Young’s strength and interior scoring prowess and Hill’s basketball IQ and ball-handling abilities. Furthermore, Hill is one of the best passers in the class of 2013, which will benefit Young greatly.
Hill can also create on his own and can finish at the rim. His explosive first step will allow him to get to the lane consistently, where he will either score on his own or dish out to open teammates spotting up behind the three-point arc.
Hill’s play will be critical if the Gators hope to challenge Kentucky in the SEC.
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